How Search and Rescue team have been using drones to help with rescues

CVSRT's potential new drone technology in action during a training exercise, photos by Matt Greaves of CVSRT
CVSRT's potential new drone technology in action during a training exercise, photos by Matt Greaves of CVSRT

Over The last few years Mountain Rescue and Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team have been introducing and trialling new technology to make rescues faster and safer for both casualties and team members.

Over recent months, CVSRT has made a significant investment on digital radio technology thanks to donations from the community and local businesses, plus a contribution from Mountain Rescue England & Wales (MREW).

This now means that each CVSRT member has a digital radio providing wide area secure communications, plus we can quickly pinpoint each member and vehicle in real-time when deployed on an incident.

This advancement for the team now allows us to manage resources more efficiently than we ever could.

Like many rescue teams around the country, CVSRT also has access to a system called SARLOC, which allows us to send a text message to a casualty with a weblink for them to click.

Once they click the link, their mobile phone sends us their exact grid coordinates. This fantastic resource means that we know exactly where the casualty is (within a few metres) and saves valuable time in searching.

Likewise, if the callout is for a lost walker, we can use SARLOC to pinpoint their location and in some cases use the information to safely direct them off the hill, allowing the walker to self-rescue.

During the last year or so, CVSRT has been monitoring with interest the advancements in drone technology and assessing its use within Mountain Rescue.

Drones are used by the police and fire service, but as yet there are few case studies of drones being used in Mountain Rescue.

Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team are fortunate to have a commercial drone pilot within the team who is specially trained to operate drones safely and professionally. Recently he’s been ‘piloting’ the use of drones during team training and has now used drones on two real incidents to help search for missing people.

Last month, several team members ran a joint training exercise with our search dogs and handlers to trial a FLIR® Infrared Camera mounted onto a drone. This was to test the combined resources during a daylight search for a missing person.

The trial was partially successful, with the drone locating one of the casualties using the thermal imaging camera and two casualties using the zoom camera.

If the weather had been cooler or the exercise done at night, then we’d expect that the thermal camera would have located all casualties very quickly.

The search dogs enjoyed the experience too and benefitted from the training by getting used to working with a drone overhead.

It’s early days and we’re not ready to purchase any of our own equipment.

Reviewing the current hardwear available on the market, a drone with a rescue grade thermal imaging camera will cost in the region of £15,000. This is a huge expense for the team and an investment that needs to be justified,

For the time being though we will continue our drone trials while the technology proves it’s worth.

CVSRT would like to thank FLIR® Systems for the loan of the infrared camera.

Please note: If you are operating a drone, always follow the drone code: dronesafe.uk.